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FDA PLUNGES INTO ISSUE OF FISH SAFETY

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Seafood processers will have to monitor fish from boat to table under new safety regulations the government announced Friday that aim to prevent food poisoning rather than just react to outbreaks of illness.

The Food and Drug Administration regulations will require the industry to test seafood at every point on its journey to American's dinner plates, from possibly polluted waters to the pasteurization machines to packaging.The same kind of system is being considered by the Agriculture Department to try to prevent tainted meat from reaching the public.

But consumer groups said the plan, known as the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point system, or HACCP, doesn't go far enough.

"FDA has taken a good first step but by itself this program does not adequately protect consumers," said Mark Epstein, executive director of Public Voice. "FDA is going to need increased authority and funding if it is truly going to reduce needless seafood-related illnesses and deaths."

Public Voice said FDA cannot close polluted harvesting waters, require certification of processing plants or inspect fishing boats or fresh seafood markets. And the agency's plan doesn't address limits on chemical contaminants in seafood.

About 9,000 Americans die every year from food poisoning, but no one knows how many are caused by tainted fish, meat or poultry.

HACCP identifies potential contamination before it occurs by focusing on the stops seafood makes on its journey to the table - forcing plants to establish safety measures at each stop and to strictly monitor those safety measures, said FDA spokeswoman Judy Foulke.

"All of this is happening within the (seafood processing) plant," she said. "They will be held responsible for those safety measures."

The FDA has been working on the issue since the National Academy of Sciences in 1991 concluded that although seafood was basically safe, companies had no way to monitor their pasteurization processes or storage temperatures and that some didn't clean equipment often enough.